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Food critic undercover in San Francisco

Michael Bauer, a food critic, keeps San Francisco chefs on their toes.

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I enjoy – make that love – eating out. Discovering new restaurants. Revisiting favorites. And having an opinion on everything from the height of the soufflé to the lineage of the chicken. So when I had a chance to join a newspaper reviewer on his surreptitious rounds, I jumped, figuratively, into the stockpot with Michael Bauer, food editor and restaurant critic for the San Francisco Chronicle for the past 24 years.

From the moment I knew where we were to dine and what made-up name his reservation would be under, I started worrying I would commit some gaffe that would blow his cover. Perhaps I would forget his pseudonym for the evening and blurt out, "Two for Michael Bauer."

Thankfully, before I could humiliate myself, he suggested we meet outside the restaurant.

Now my concern was how to recognize him. I didn't think he would go as far as Ruth Reichl who, when she reviewed for The New York Times, would on occasion don a wig and assume the persona "Brenda Rose." (At the other extreme, a restaurant reviewer for Chicago Magazine I dined with many years ago carried a tape recorder in his pocket and a microphone in the lapel hole of his jacket. Every few minutes he would lean over to talk to his lapel. It was like being in a "Saturday Night Live" sketch.)

But I had no need to worry about failing to recognize my dining partner. Mr. Bauer told me his disguise was apparently going to be ... Michael Bauer.

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